Three UAlberta scholars elected to Canada's top health academy

The Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry's Dean Befus, Sumit Majumdar and Ross Tsuyuki to lend expertise to national health policies.

Kirsten Bauer - 25 October 2017

Fellowship in the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) is one of Canada's top honours for health sciences scholars, who are inducted annually to provide unbiased expert opinion to the Government of Canada on the nation's most pressing health topics.

Established in 2005, the CAHS has an early link to the University of Alberta. "In 2004 I became President of the Canadian Institute of Academic Medicine," said Paul Armstrong, CAHS founding president and U of A distinguished cardiology professor. "With some effort and a lot of support from others at the University of Alberta, we transformed this largely honorific group limited to 100 elected members to become CAHS in 2005. We formed a working group to represent all of the health care disciplines instead of just conventional medical backgrounds."

There are now more than 670 honoured members who serve the academy. U of A's Dean Befus, Sumit Majumdar, and Ross Tsuyuki were inducted on September 14, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario. Read more about their distinguished careers below.

Left to right: Barbara Ballerman, Sumit Majumdar, Paul Armstrong, Tom Marrie, and Jon Meddings

Left to right: Barbara Ballerman, Sumit Majumdar, Paul Armstrong, Tom Marrie, and Jon Meddings

Dean Befus, '70 BSc

Professor Emeritus, Department of Medicine

Co-director, Alberta Respiratory Centre

Prior to founding the Pulmonary Research Group in 1993, Befus completed his PhD in Scotland, his postdoc at McMaster, Ontario, and a Bachelor of Science at the U of A.

"My first mentor I would say was an undergraduate teacher who directed me to infectious diseases," said the 1970 UAlberta alumnus. "I had a summer job working with one of his master's students, and I became interested. I actually worked on lungworm infections in bighorn sheep. That was my first summer job."

Befus' early training set the stage for his scientific career, further propelled in motion by a grant from the socially conscious Rockefeller Foundation, to study parasitic infections in the tropics. "That's why I went to West Africa. I worked on immunity links of breastfeeding and infant diarrhea."

Befus is internationally recognized for his fundamental discoveries related to translational research in allergy, asthma and inflammation. His multidisciplinary career has taken him around the world to study a multitude of basic science topics, and he has been on faculty at three Canadian medical schools, where he has mentored many young scholars. He is a contributor to many professional organizations, including the Canadian Society of Immunology and the Canadian Society for International Health in tropical medicine, and continues to be an advocate for his field.

Now semi-retired, Befus still works about a third of the time. "Or maybe it's more like half," he laughed.

Rising health issue: Befus has concerns about the future of marijuana legalization and pulmonary disease. "As much as I am sympathetic to it, I don't like the idea of people inhaling it, because it's just like smoking cigarettes. I think we're going to have a significant amount of lung disease as a result."

Sumit "Me2" Majumdar, '92 MD

Professor, Department of Medicine

Adjunct professor, School of Public Health/ Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences

Endowed Chair in Patient Health Management

Merck Frosst Chair in Patient Health Management, Faculty of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences/ Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

As co-founder of Knowledge Translation Canada, Majumdar is working toward systemic improvements to better address the needs of the public.

"I believe in looking at patient care in the context of their social circumstances," Majumdar said. "It's much easier to have a feel for one disease. So if you're an expert in diabetes and that's all you do, that's quite different from doing research with patients who have diabetes, and smoke a lot, and are poor. The reason their diabetes is not well managed is because they still have to pay for their families, and they still have to work. So it's more about the patient than the disease."

Rising health issue: With a background in internal medicine and a Master's degree from the Harvard School of Public Health, Majumdar strives to improve conditions for the elderly, and those suffering from multiple conditions, by reducing barriers to treatment through improved health policy and connecting research to primary care providers.

"For family doctors in the community or a primary care nurse or a pharmacist, it's very hard to take care of patients with multiple conditions," Majumdar said. "So you can be a hero if you take care of osteoporosis, or other conditions... because the main reason patients aren't getting treated is because they're typically working. Or, the osteoporosis by itself isn't so bad because it's being manhandled by these other illnesses."

Ross Tsuyuki

Director, Epidemiology Coordinating and Research Centre (EPICORE)

Lead, Consultation & Research Services Platform, Alberta Innovates SPOR Support Unit

Professor of cardiology, Department of Medicine

As a pharmacist himself, Tsuyuki understands the role of pharmacists in delivering patient care.

"I had heard that people see their community pharmacist more frequently than they see their physician, and I saw that as an opportunity." Tsuyuki says. "So I thought, 'I wonder if pharmacists would be interested in screening people for high blood pressure and cholesterol and so on.' It turns out that they are. So we were the first ones to actually do really large scale trials with hundreds of pharmacists systematically screening people. And damned if it didn't work!"

In 2007, the laws in Alberta changed so that pharmacists could prescribe medications. According to Tsuyuki, Alberta is only the second place in the world where this is permitted.

"So we were in the right place at the right time to take the work one step further, and actually have pharmacists prescribe the drugs for high blood pressure and cholesterol and so on." Tsuyuki and his team were able to conduct randomized clinical trials and found the program to have huge impact.

"This has never been shown anywhere else in the world. Recently, I was in Japan speaking about it, up next I'm off to Germany."

Rising health issue: Tsuyuki is excited to see his research design skills benefit more clinicians, who understand what patients need but often lack research methodology training. He and his team provide a range of support services through EPICORE and the Alberta SPOR support unit.

"We're doing a count of the number of individuals that we support, and it's now over about 360 different people from all across the country. The kind of services that we provide don't exist in most other universities. So people are actually coming to us from UBC and Calgary and Saskatchewan and Ontario."

"It doesn't really matter what the topic is, they bring the ideas in, and we provide the services. We're helping to establish faculty members who have never done research before or haven't done much research before. I get a huge thrill out of that."